Dangerous Worship

Authentic Christ-centered worship is dangerous.  To contemplate such worship, biblically, you only have to open yourself and those you lead to the many passages we normally point to when discussing Christian worship.  We could begin with the Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31, Matt 22:37, based on the shemah in Deut 6:5).  Truly loving the Lord with our whole heart, mind, and strength would likely change much about how we worship, “do church,” and treat others around us.  Loving neighbor as self would radically shift the priorities that placate those looking for worship that suits their family and themselves.  Venturing to passages like Isaiah 6, Romans 12:1-2, John 4:21-26, Acts 2, Heb 2, 10, and 11, Eph 5:19-20, 1 John 4:20-21, 1 Pet 2:4-5, or the book of Revelations should be done only with great caution, as such spiritual journey might awaken us to our complete dependency on Christ, and cause us to actually see “the least of these” around us.  Centering worship in the whole story of God may disturb our people’s feelings of adequacy, and point out their absolute need for a risen Lord.  It’s a danger zone for worship leaders and fellow-worshipers.  In dangerous worship the promise of “success” may be replaced by a call for response in simple living (Micah 6:8).  It is probably “safer” to lead congregations to sing “He thought of me above all,” than to sing “Let your heart be broken for a world in need,” or “willing, my Savior to take up the cross; Willing to suffer reproaches and loss.”  Recognizing that the only place we “stand forgiven” is at a cross can be dangerous.

Presbyterian pastor, Mark Labberton in his book, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice, says that most of our churches are asleep.  He discusses ways that we spend time, money, and energy covering up our sleeping condition.  We try to do things that would make us appear alive, and that appearance is usually based on a very inept interpretation of what being truly alive in Christ would mean.  We try to pump up the volume, pick up the tempo, and dramatize emotions to appear awake, though such dramatization seldom fools anyone with the scant possible exception of ourselves.  The truth is that the picture painted here is, in truth, pathetic.  As long as we continue to center worship conversations in issues of style or preference that are actually non-issues to the heart of genuine Christocentric worship, we are, in some sense, fairly “safe.”  We can figure out tentative ways out of the discomfort of such nominal concerns.  Though conflicted and sometimes confused by fickled congregants, we can usually figure out some way to throw this monkey from our back.  Most of us are adequate in our musicianship enough to accommodate the occasional rumblings of pastor or people.  We can determine to acquiesce to cries for more contemporary material by catching up with the latest trend and giving in to the “hip” sleepers’ requests.  We can serve our tradition and appease the cries for the “old songs” and get by for a short while as that set of sleepers snooze to the sweet lullaby of gospel goodies.  We can probably quiet the harried music servants who are tired and need some time off by shortening our rehearsals, lowering leadership standards, or reducing the amount of challenging music.  These things usually work for awhile.

In recent days I have had numerous discussions with some of you, our worship music pastors, who are facing struggles regarding worship in your churches.  For some of you, the struggle is with the senior pastor.  For others the struggle is with members of the congregation for various reasons.  For still others the struggle is with choir and other music leaders over issues of consistent faithfulness.  If I hear you correctly, in most of these cases, the tension is over issues that are not really dangerous.  To use Labberton’s analogy, I would say that the energy in many of these tensions can be found in the pull between a church trying to remain asleep while wanting to appear engaged in true worship.  But, as stated, real Christ honoring worship is dangerous.  We serve among people who are conditioned for comfort, not danger.  To be honest, we, ourselves, may be conditioned in like manner.  I confess to being there far too often myself.

For brevity’s sake, I want to give you two lists from Labberton’s book that may challenge you as they have me.  Caution:  Reading and praying over these lists may disturb your sleep. 

FALSE DANGERS:  I believe this list to be constructs of our own making.  Even so, they can control us.

False Danger #1: Worship That’s Not Under Control

False Danger #2: Worship That Doesn’t Seem Relevant

False Danger #3: Worship That Doesn’t Meet Expectations

False Danger #4: Worship That Isn’t Popular

False Danger #5: Worship That Isn’t Comfortable

False Danger #6: Worship That Is Unfamiliar

When the disciples met Jesus their world changed.  They discovered that the message of their Lord included acute awareness of the poor and lame, involved extravagant claims, and extended both to previous realities (anamnesis – remembering) and forward (prolepsis – into eternity).  Worship in Spirit and Truth reliant on the Holy Spirit and sold out to trusting the Gospel of Jesus Christ is genuinely dangerous!  Here are some real dangers of such worship:

Real Danger #1: Encountering God

Real Danger #2: Worship that Lies to God

Real Danger #3: Worship that Lies About God

Real Danger #4: Worship that Doesn’t Change Us

Real Danger #5: Worship that Doesn’t Change the World

I am tempted to expand on the items of either of these lists, but Abberton has already done that, and I encourage you to consider reading this book, if you dare.  Scriptures normally associated with worship discussions are applicable to these lists.  Prayerful contemplation over these lists holds potential to convict and reveal much about our churches’ worship, as well as our own.

Trusting Him,

Paul

Explore posts in the same categories: Leading Worship, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Uncategorized, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

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